Detectives trying to gauge the scale and make-up of the network responsible for last week’s attacks will not be confining their investigations to door-to-door inquiries on the streets of West Yorkshire. They will also be probing a plethora of extreme Islamist websites which disseminate anti-western and anti-Jewish views, and which frequently shower praise on acts of terrorism.
Although police do not yet know exactly where those responsible gained the expertise to make the bombs used last Thursday, they know there are any number of websites that could have pointed them in the right direction and put them in touch with similar-minded people.
Islamist groups often post instructions and videos on websites telling sympathisers how to make bombs from everyday materials. They also provide tips on which materials are hardest to detect and how to carry out a suicide bombing.
Last December, a 26-minute video was posted in a militant Islamic chatroom which showed how to construct a suicide bomb vest. It also gave details of the device’s effective range.
Concern about such sites is not confined to the west. Earlier this year, the Saudi Arabian authorities set up an online service to counsel young people against joining al-Qaida. They also provided a hotline for families who fear their sons are thinking of enlisting with terrorist groups.
A campaign to force the main internet service providers to find and close down such sites has been going on for some time.
Beth Cox, head of counter terrorism at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “Just as we use the internet to improve mainstream communications and the performance of the economy, extremists use it to increase their communications and knowledge. There is no real way to regulate it and I can’t see how there will be in the future.”
Among the sites causing concern is Jihadunspun (JUS), a highly professional website which claims to present “a clear view of war on terror”. It has been widely criticised in the US by agencies including the state department.
The site tells readers: “JUS translates al-Qaida statements daily in order to bring readers the other side of the war of ‘terror’.” It questions claims that al-Qaida was involved in the London bombing.
“The previously unknown group circulated a claim of responsibility shortly after this morning attacks, a copy of which was received by JUS,” it says. “However this statement has some glaring errors in it that indicated to us that this material did not likely come from al-Qaida.”
Also causing concern are the internet publications of the Party for Islamic Renewal. The site has uncritically published translated speeches by Osama bin Laden’s presumed deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, including one entitled “The Freeing of Humanity and Homelands Under the Banner of the Qur’an.”
The al-Muhajiroun site has also been scrutinised. Its leader, Omar Muhammad Bakri, has spoken of his ambition to see the “black flag of Islam” flying over Downing Street. It is understood that at least one of the suspects killed after the London blasts had links with members of al-Muhajiroun in Bedfordshire.
However, Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission warned against placing too much value on the role played by extremist websites.
“There are a lot of websites I would like to see an end of, but we are a free society and we need to be careful before we curtail freedom of speech.”
He added: “I don’t think websites are creating the problem. What is creating the problem is the alienation of our youth [and] what is happening internationally. We don’t have any arenas in our mosques for them to discuss these issues. We are pushing it underground.”